« Government whip makes speech from the Despatch Box - is this a first? | Main | Sajid Javid tells MPs that banks should not bear full responsibility for financial crash »

The sun shines on the second reading of Rebecca Harris's Daylight Saving Bill - but darkness is set to engulf it in committee

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-12-03 at 19.41.05 Rebecca Harris's article on this site recently about her Daylight Saving Bill generated a lot of comment, not all of them favourable.  It would be a joke below even this column's low standards to write that it generated more heat than light.  She moved the Bill's Second Reading yesterday in the Commons, and the core of her argument was as follows -

"The issue involves...a simple question about how we should best use our daylight hours. Time is the most precious resource...We cannot grow time, make more of it than we have or create additional daylight, but it is up to us to utilise both as best we can. We in this House determine what time regime the country uses to regulate everyone’s lives, and all I ask is that we ensure we set our clocks to everyone’s best advantage. Given the wealth of arguments in favour of change, the Government should surely ensure that they have it right. My Bill asks, therefore, for a review of whether we would be better off moving our clocks ahead one hour in winter, in summer or both.

Essentially, we would move an hour of daylight from the morning, when people use it least, to the afternoon or evening, when we could make better use of it, and, as most of us wake up well after sunrise for nine months a year and go to bed long after sunset, we could make better use of our daylight hours. As I have said, the reasons for change are stronger today than ever, which might explain why so many colleagues, particularly newly elected colleagues, are present to support the Bill.

Much of the evidence for change, gathered by a range of organisations and respected experts, seems to be strong and clear—some of it, unequivocal—but there are gaps, and too many people remain sceptical about the benefits that proponents of the measure claim. Without a clearer picture of the advantages and disadvantages, that might always remain the case: the status quo would be maintained, and we might miss out once again.

The central problem with our previous attempts to introduce daylight saving has been an absence of all the evidence, so I have sought to draft my Bill differently. My Bill, unlike previous measures, does not enforce an immediate change or seek to enforce my views or those of my colleagues on anyone; it simply asks the Government to conduct a cross-Government study of the benefits of the move."

Three main themes emerged during the debate that followed -

  • Most of those who supported the bill were from the south (and enthusiastic about the prospect of lighter evenings), and all of those who opposed it were from the north (concerned about the prospect of darker mornings).  There were exceptions - for example, Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) was supportive - but a list of those who intervened on Harris to back her up proves the point.  They were: Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North), Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton), Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) , Albert Owen (Ynys Mon), Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal), Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk), Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead), Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East), Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con), Don Foster (Bath), Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys), Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown), Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West), Mr Steve Brine (Winchester), Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter), Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central), Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon), Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion), Charlie Elphicke (Dover).
  • Claims about the effects of change on England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the economy, business, overseas trade, the environment, farming, fishing, schools, children, tourism, crime, household bills, energy consumption, fuel poverty, sport, Orthodox Jews and our old friend, well-being, hurtled around the Chamber - as did controversies about what happened during and public attitudes towards during the last Daylight Saving Time experiment.  This column goes in for old cliches as well as bad jokes, and what Disraeli said, or is meant to have said, about lies, damned lies and statistics inevitably comes to mind.
  • Ministers may well have read Phil Johnston's recent Daily Telegraph column, which made a virtue of pointing out the obvious - namely, that those against change will make more waves than those that favour it.  At any rate, Ed Davey, speaking for the Government, opposed the bill.  He said in effect that change would upset some people in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and that it would in any event require the consent of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the Northern Ireland Assembly.  But the Bill - you may protest - was only proposing a study.  Davey was ready for that.  Not so, he said: "After all, the Bill includes a provision that would automatically trigger a trial if the proposed analysis reached a positive conclusion."

Extracts from two speeches opposing the Bill help to give a flavour of the debate. Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) had a pop at the data -

"I live in the far north of Scotland and I represent people who will be disproportionately impacted by the proposed change, however, and I have to say that I remain decidedly ambivalent about the potential benefits and unpersuaded by some of the evidence that I have seen.

I have also been approached by numerous constituents—just ordinary citizens who are not part of any lobby group—who are worried about the impact of the proposals on their quality of life. They tell me how the measure could compromise their safety. One of my main concerns with the evidence that I have seen and heard is that an awful lot of it is simulated, as the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) pointed out. It is speculative, and it is not based on empirical data. It does not take into account other relevant attendant factors that can influence this process, such as the weather. I have been slightly bemused this week to observe how a light dusting of snow in central London seems to have brought the metropolis to a standstill. However, many parts of the country are experiencing very severe weather at present, and I think it brings home to many of us just how dangerous it can be to travel in icy conditions."

- and Angus Brendan MacNeil illustrated when the sun would rise in parts of Scotland were change to happen -

"Darker mornings will mean sunrise at 10 am for many people. Indeed, London’s sunrise will be at quarter to 9. Let us consider some of the sunrise times in the UK this morning, starting in Scotland. In Aberdeen, sunrise was 8.26 am, with a length of day of seven hours and five minutes. In Edinburgh, it was 8.22 am, with a length of day of seven hours and 20 minutes. In London, it was 7.46 am, with a length of day of eight hours and seven minutes—almost an hour more daylight than in Aberdeen, due to the effect of latitude. That would leave London with sunrise at quarter to 9. Let me draw attention to the west coast of Scotland. Stornoway had sunrise at 10 to 9 today, which would of course become 10 to 10. Tobermory, which some people might think is quite close to Stornoway, has a difference of 13 minutes in its sunrise, which is 13 minutes earlier, and sunset is nine minutes later."

Caroline Nokes (Romsey), Roger Gale (Thanet North) and Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) were among the Conservatives who supported the Bill.  Ben Gummer wins the John Gummer Memorial Debating Award -

"Ben Gummer: The hon. Gentleman is manfully presenting arguments against what seem to be manifestly sensible reasons for moving the times of day. May I put to him an argument that has not been put so far? The unofficial opposition to the Bill appears to have been mobilised by Mr Peter Hitchens. Is that not the clincher in favour of a successful passage for the Bill, or does the hon. Gentleman wish to find himself in alliance with Mr Hitchens?

Mr MacNeil: I am not very familiar with Mr Peter Hitchens. I believe that he writes in The Times or the Daily Express, or perhaps the Daily Mail. I have heard that Mr Peter Hitchens is involved, but I have had no contact with Mr Peter Hitchens, either positive or negative. Perhaps the word “kamikaze” could be attached to Mr Peter Hitchens; I have no idea. However, if Mr Peter Hitchens is on my side, I welcome that. What an eminently sensible man Mr Peter Hitchens must be. [Interruption.] I have just been told my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan that I did not want to say that. Hansard, strike it from the record! [Laughter.] It seems that Mr Peter Hitchens has been a torpedo to my argument, whoever he is"

- and Angie Bray the Spot-the-Bilderberger Prize -

"Angie Bray: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I was pleased to have a small role in suggesting the good title of “Churchill’s time”, which would be helpful to us patriots who get rather annoyed when people suggest that we are being pushed into this move by an EU directive or that we are going back to Berlin time.

Mr MacNeil: Perhaps rather than Churchill time, it should be Chamberlain time—appeasement is what is happening.

Angie Bray: It was Churchill who recognised that by going on to summer time, we would get more out of our factories and generally be more productive. That is why it was so useful during the war effort."

Davey's key passage was as follows -

"In conclusion, the Government see many arguments in favour of the change that the hon. Lady is promoting. We would all appreciate the chance to make the most of lighter evenings and welcome the benefits to energy saving and road safety that the change might bring, but unless and until we can extend the hours of daylight—I doubt that we could do that—lighter evenings means darker mornings. A responsible Government must take careful account of the disadvantages that that would bring to certain communities.

The Prime Minister was therefore quite right to make it clear that any change would need the support of all parts of the UK. As things stand, despite some of the arguments we have heard today, it remains clear that there are a number of significant issues in respect of such a change for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and I believe that we cannot go forward with the consent of all three devolved Administrations.

In addition, the subject of the Bill is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, so any UK-wide legislation would require the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Until we have clear evidence of the necessary consensus across the UK and the necessary consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Government’s clear view is that it would be inappropriate for this Parliament to pass the hon. Lady’s Bill or any other legislation on this matter.

That point applies to the hon. Lady’s Bill even though it does not directly propose a move to central European time or an immediate trial. After all, the Bill includes a provision that would automatically trigger a trial if the proposed analysis reached a positive conclusion. As such, passage of the Bill would still risk being perceived by many in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and by the devolved Administrations, as an attempt by Westminster to impose unwelcome change. I acknowledge, however, that the Lighter Later campaign has made some good points about the potential benefits of change to the UK as a whole, and I again pay tribute to her efforts.

The Government agree that this is an important issue that must be taken seriously.  As a result, although we cannot support the hon. Lady’s Bill—and I would urge the House not to give it a Second Reading—I can announce that we intend to consider the question further. Specifically, if the Bill does not progress today, we intend to do two things. First, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will write to the First Ministers in Scotland and Wales, and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, not just to draw attention to this debate and the arguments made in favour of change, but to invite them to consider entering into a dialogue with us on this matter. That is the way to achieve the consensus that the Prime Minister believes is necessary.

Secondly, the Government would intend to publish a review of the available evidence concerning the likely effects of moving to central European time in the UK. This review would be a cross-departmental effort, drawing on relevant unpublished data held by Departments, and include consideration of the coverage of the evidence base, identifying any gaps and providing views on its validity. Although that might not be as comprehensive a consideration of the matter as the hon. Lady’s proposed commission might achieve, but it would be a significant step forward in the analysis of the arguments for and against change on this important issue. As such, I hope it would also facilitate a future dialogue on the matter into which the devolved Administrations might wish to enter."

When Ministers say something's "an important issue that must be taken seriously", you can bet your bottom dollar that nothing much will happen.  The vote on Second Reading was carried by 92 votes to 10, but Ministers will doubtless ensure that the bill is quietly smothered in committee.  This column leaves the last word to Jacob Rees-Mogg -

"Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I have been enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech enormously. I think that he has identified the nub of the problem, which is simply that there is not enough daylight in the winter, and there is remarkably little that Government—or even a sovereign Parliament—can do about it."


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.